March 2, 2011

The Importance of Being Irrelevant.

Photo: antkriz

When we stop seeming like heroes in the eyes of our children and students…

Being a yoga teacher is not unlike being a parent. New yoga students, like children, enter into your life with 100% of their trust. They trust you to nurture them, they trust you to teach them “right from wrong” and they trust you to prevent them from harm. This is exactly why many of us become teachers and parents: we are ready to share our acquired knowledge. We long to educate those who are looking for guidance. We want to witness the growth of others. We want to have relevance in the lives of others.

The danger in both being a parent and a teacher is that we do not see the importance of becoming irrelevant. As a parent, the sting of adolescence can become profoundly painful if we don’t realize that it is our job to see our children’s sudden pushing away as a mark that they are on the right path. Most often, profound periods of growth immediately follow a period of resistance and discomfort. Like the chick hatching from the egg or the sprout busting out of the seed casing to rise through the soil and reach for the sun, so is the process of human growth. It is not easy.

As teachers, parents and mentors of any kind it is our job to be there during this process and to allow for the discomfort, the resistance and the push-back without letting our ego get in the way. All too often we are at risk of interpreting this natural growth process as a mark that there is either something wrong with us—or with them. I can easily call to mind the periods of time when I thought my parents were complete idiots, began to notice flaws in my therapist and found myself rolling my eyes in yoga class.

The process of simultaneously learning to stand on our own two feet while testing someone’s commitment to being there for us is very scary indeed. As parents, teachers and mentors we are the shepherds in one’s journey toward independence and self sufficiency. It is when we can bask in the glory of this uncomfortable, messy and ultimately empowering process that we are truly supporting our students and our children. It is precisely when we stop seeming like heroes in the eyes of our children and students that we know we have done our job well.

In my role as both teacher and mother, the intention is the same: help the people who are looking to me for guidance find their own guiding inner voice. One bitter pill that parents must swallow is the acceptance that we do not have total control over the well being of our children. As the mother of a teenager, I found myself panicking when I realized that my child was now at the age when he could be doing anything, anywhere, with anyone and I couldn’t keep him safe!

A wonderful book called Get Out of My Life: But First Can You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall was recommended to me. Speaking as the parent of a teen, I’d go so far as to say that this book saved my sanity. There is one phrase in the entire book that keeps running through my head: “Adolescence is the time when you need to give up control and let your child make choices, and it is the time when the stakes are exceedingly high.”

I feel grateful that my role as yoga teacher helps me see my role of becoming irrelevant so clearly. In my classes I strive to provide information, support, guidance and structure while encouraging and applauding my students for listening to their own internal voices and making decisions that are right for them. I am reminded that when new students begin their yogic journey we may be walking a path together, but it is when those paths diverge that I can be proud.

As my teenage son begins walking his path, I know there will be many times that he will trip and fall. Like any parent, my instinct is to bring him back to the path that we have walked together since he was a baby. My deep love for him drives me to pick him up and whisper, “Just stay by me. I will walk in front of you and keep you safe.” Through my own journey as a teacher I know to take a deep breath, help him back to his feet and continue to shepherd him down his own path, until he can walk it on his own.

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